Let me tell you about my new friend Ben
Michael Jackson had a hit song in the early Seventies when he was still just a sweet wee boy. It was called "Ben" and the opening lines went like this:
"Ben, the two of us need look no more
We both found what we were looking for.
With a friend to call my own
I'll never be alone;
And you my friend will see
You've got a friend in me"
I really loved it and so did everyone else too because it was number one for ages. It was only afterwards the writer explained that the song was actually about a lonely boy and a tame feral rat.
When I learnt that I actually loved it even more. I'd always been an animal lover and from that moment I too wanted a friend to call my own just like Ben. And thus began my fondness for the common rat...
In those days I'd only ever seen rats on the telly before - on a children's programme called Tales of the Riverbank - but I adored them. Awww!...Those cute little beady eyes! The wee pointy nose! Those long glossy whiskers! Those tiny little teeth! Unfortunately my mum didn't share my enthusiasm. She had a hysterical mortal dread of all rodents and so when I asked for a pet rat she looked at me like I was possessed with the devil. I knew they were more likely to take me to the priest to be exorcised than to the pet shop to get one, but I hankered after a rat ever since.
Before you all pipe up, I accept that rats are vermin that spread disease and considered by most of the world to be a plague on humanity, but I still think they are really cute despite all the bad Press. And heck are they getting a lot at the moment. In fact rats are never out of the news these days. Just this week there was a story about a girl who rescued a cornered rat from a violent mob who were kicking it to death on Royal Avenue in Belfast. As I read it I knew I would have done exactly the same thing. The poor wee thing must have been terrified and it must have taken a lot of courage for that girl to intervene and carry the critter all the way across town to find a vet. And yet the public at large seemed to think that the girl was crazy to even try to defend it. This wasn't a wee fluffy puppy - this was a huge rat for dear sake!
Meanwhile on telly I'm a Celebrity has started up again with its ultimate Bush Tucker Trial - to see who can last the longest stuck in a cave full of live rats. Personally, I've often thought I'd much rather do that than endure an hour in the company of so many revolting reality TV stars. But it just goes to show how these unsuspecting little fellas are feared and loathed so openly and so vehemently by so many.
So yes, you could safely conclude that I've had a sneaking regard for rats all my life.
So one thing might surprise you - because it certainly did surprise me - and that is how I reacted when I came face to face with one last week. I went to investigate a loud crunching sound coming from the cupboard in my kitchen, opened the door and there, looking up at me without so much as a by-your leave, was a solitary rat - about the size of a guinea pig and just as cute - gnawing nonchalantly on a Bonio dog biscuit.
Unfortunately, my instinctive gut reaction was to leap back and scream from the shock, sending him bolting out through the door like ...well, like a rat up a drainpipe. I know how it got there. I had left the back door open for the dogs to come and go and he must have seen that as a giant welcome sign for him to saunter on in and help himself to the free all-you-can-eat buffet under the kitchen counter. Bless...
I haven't seen Mr Ratty since, but I've now got a trap in position (filled with doggie biscuits) poised with a hair-trigger door, so that if he does come back I'll be able to catch him safe and sound without hurting him. If so, I do intend to set him free in the wild, but I'll probably try and get to know him first before I do. I might even give him a name. No prizes for guessing what it'll be.